Depth Map: What It Is and How to Create It

What is a depth map?

A depth map is an image that contains information about the distance between the surface of objects from a given viewpoint. A depth map is created from a source image and is typically in gray scale format.

When merged with the source image, a 3D image is created. It will appear as though the original source image has depth to it.

depth map 3d photo visual
This 3D Photo is created using a depth map

How do you create a depth map?

How do you get from a flat 2D image to its depth map? Follow our tutorial to manually create a depth map.

Have more questions on how to create the best depth maps for 3D Photos beyond this tutorial? Join our Facebook group and converse with other creators. 

depth map creation

Choose the right source image

The most important step is to choose the right image to transform. While it’s true that any 2D image can become 3D, some images work better than others.

These are images that contain at least 3 layers of depth in its content: (1) a clear foreground, (2) middle ground, and (3) background. Images with even more natural layers of depth, such as dust and moi will lead to even better 3D Photos.

We chose this photo, which we’ll turn into a 3D Photo display ad:

depth map tutorial step 1

Slice layers

You can use Photoshop or any image editing tool that allows layer creation and gray scale color editing.

Focus on preparing the sliced layers of content using lasso, magic wand, or your favorite selection tool. The edge doesn’t need to be super precise. At the end, we’ll convert these layers into solid color to represent the depth.

It’s easier to start selecting and gray-scaling your layers by first starting from the foreground. Then move backwards: move to the middle ground and then finally the background.

Slice as many layers as you like, but one way to make your work easier is to remember that once you’ve sliced your foreground layer, that layer will block the ones behind it, so you don’t need to be so precise for that area in the layers behind it.

In the image below, we’ve sliced the boots and a portion for the rock to be our foreground layer.

depth map tutorial step 2

We added another layer to incorporate more of the rocks:

depth map tutorial step 3

And another layer to incorporate more of the rock that next appears closer to the camera.

depth map tutorial step 4

And then we sliced the road and accompanying rocks. It’s fine to keep the boots and other rocks that we already sliced here since those layers will cover them up:

depth map step 5

We then sliced the sunshine and sky:

depth map step 6

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Time to gray-scale

After you’ve sliced all your layers, the next step is to fill the color for each layer. Farther out layers should be dark and layers in the foreground should be light gray.

You can also use gradient as a fill to make the dimension more subtle and interesting.

final depth map

Add an overlay (optional)

In addition to the 3D Photo itself, OmniVirt’s tool supports overlay in transparent PNG format, which is the special layer that always stays still on top of your 3D photo.

This works really well for texts and logos, which don’t transfer well to 3D.

depth map with overlay

See the final 3D photo here

See 20+ examples of depth maps in our depth map compilation.

Examples of Depth Maps

Use our learning tool, Depth Analyzer, to see depth maps of public Facebook 3D Photo posts.

Here’s a few from the OmniVirt Facebook page:

See final 3D Photo 

depth map example

See final 3D Photo

depth map example mlk

See final 3D Photo 

See 20+ examples of depth maps in our depth map compilation.